Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Summer in a Glass – Evan Dawson

One of the things you learn when you read a lot of wine books is that, as much as I may love them, many are not exactly thrill-a-minute page-turners. And for those who aren’t passionate about wine, they may even seem a little dry. Wine is fascinating, but it’s also complicated and that can make it difficult to write books about it that appeal to people who aren’t necessarily all that interested in wine.

Evan Dawson may have written a book that’s the exception to the rule. I bought a copy of Summer in a Glass last year, having seen it recommended on Twitter. I kept thinking I should get around to reading it, but I was concerned that a book about the Finger Lakes wine region in New York State might not be that interesting. And never mind that there were so many books about the bigger and more influential areas that I needed to read for wine school.

But then I picked it up and I had trouble putting it down. This is probably the first and only time a book about a wine region almost made me miss my subway stop. Dawson writes in a way that’s just so compelling – each chapter is the story of a Finger Lakes winemaker and how they found their way to the region. And the stories are just so fascinating – and told so well. There’s the French estate literally stolen away from one, the ongoing immigration saga of another, the slipping away from his German home in the middle of the night of a third. Each story is given equal care and attention – whether the winemakers’ story is full of drama or just full of a passion for the region.

And this really is a love letter to the Finger Lakes – a region that’s not too far from Toronto and yet had been very far off my travel radar before this book. Now I simply can’t wait to visit – I’ve already ordered my Finger Lakes travel guide. We likely won’t get there until sometime next year, but I’m sure that the stories in this book will still be with me as we get there – the stories Dawson has chosen to tell are just too vibrant and compelling to forget.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I look forward to a future post on the Finger Lakes.

To order from Amazon click here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

iYellow and Errazuriz Wines

I love wine events that involve meeting the winemaker. It’s always such a unique opportunity to really learn about a wine and to ask questions that the sales rep might not be able to answer. The recent iYellow event featuring Errazuriz wines and winemaker Francisco Baettig was a fabulous opportunity for me. Not only did I get to experience some of the very best wines Viña Errázuriz makes, but I was able to listen to the winemaker explain why he decided to make the decisions he did when it came to creating those wines.

And Francisco did not disappoint – he was wonderfully personable and happy to talk about his winemaking techniques and the viticulture in Chilé. He was also willing to chat with guests and answer our questions. I was especially interested to learn that most of the wine consumed in Chilé is made in that country and that there is limited access to imported wines – almost the exact opposite of the way things are here.

I didn’t know a lot about Errazuriz wines before this event, but I’m looking forward to trying them again soon. We were able to sample wines from three different quality and price points, starting with the Estate Chardonnay and Estate Pinot Noir, both of which were enjoyable entry-level wines (and, with the grapes picked in March I think these both qualify as cold-climate wines, although I’d love an expert to weigh in on that).

At the second level we tried the Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (surprisingly similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on both the nose and the palate) and Syrah (which was one of my favourites of the night). There was also a Cabernet Sauvignon available, but I didn’t get to sample that.

The surprise of the night was that we were also able to taste Errazuriz’s highest-quality wines, which retail for $80 and up. The 2010 Kai, which was my absolute favourite wine of the night (and honestly one of the best wines I’ve had ever) retails for $144.95 and is a delicious Carmenere with a splash of Petit Verdot that will likely only improve with age. If you are going to spend this kind of money on a bottle, Kai is one of the wines worth the splurge.  This was just such a lush, savoury wine.

We were also able to sample the 2008 La Cumbre, which is a lovely, vibrant Syrah. And the 2008 Don Maximiano, which is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend. Both were truly excellent wines with outstanding mouth feel.

I honestly felt lucky to be able to try these three wines, as they really highlighted for me just how magical some wines can be. There are those who scoff at such high priced wines (and those like me who simply can’t afford them), but the experience of a truly brilliant bottle – where the grapes are hand picked, each grape checked for perfection and the wine made in small quantities to ensure greatness – is one that I hope everyone has at some point in their lives.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine Club and Philippe Dandurand Wines for the invite.

To purchase Errazuriz wines in Canada, visit the LCBO or the Philippe Dandurand Wines website.

To discover more fabulous and fun wine events in Toronto, check out the iYellow website!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sherryfest Toronto

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a ‘secret’ sherry tasting with some of the best wine and food experts this city has to offer. I definitely felt like the fly in the wine at this one, as every one of the other eleven people in attendance had way more wine experience then me (nothing intimidating about having a Master Sommelier at the table). Of course, the wine community is nothing if not wonderfully welcoming and inclusive, so while I may have wished I had more to offer no one made me feel the least bit bad about quietly taking it all in.

And I learned so much – I was thrilled to have the opportunity to really start to understand sherry, which I’ve barely touched on in my wine classes. Host Derek JB Kranenborg from The Vine Agency is an incredible font of information on sherry and at the end of two hours and 19 tastings, I felt like I had taken a master class in this unique Spanish wine.

Derek is bringing his love of sherry to life in October when he brings Sherryfest to Toronto from October 9th - 11th. The festival, which originated in New York in 2012 via Peter Liem and Rosemary Gray, will bring together the best sherry from a number of bodegas. While the Toronto version will be slightly smaller than New York’s, it will still showcase sherry in a way that this city has never seen.  

Below is a Q and A with Derek about Sherryfest – you can also read more at his blog, www.alltherightgrapes.com

Why bring Sherryfest to Toronto?

Sherry has always been a personal favourite and a wine I am passionate about (I lived in Spain briefly at the end of the '90s when I was working for a bank and I really fell in love with Spain, Rioja and Sherry), when I joined The Vine we embarked on importing Barbadillo and Equipo Navazos as I was convinced they were real wines of quality and worth trying to bring attention to. In the UK and New York City specifically, dry sherry at the premium end of the spectrum was gaining momentum and last year there were two great sherry events in London and NYC. We had some success with Equipo Navazos and I could sense there was a real interest in sherry with several somms and chefs, even if they felt it would be hard to sell. After attending Sherryfest in New York, I really wanted to try it in Toronto and see if we could pull something off here. I contacted Peter Liem and the Consejo Regulador in Jerez and both were interested in giving it a try.  So here we are, a week and a bit away from the largest ever sherry-only event in probably all of Canada. It's hard to bring in high-end (old and rare) sherry through the LCBO (see another post on my blog) but I feel this wine just deserves more attention.

What do you think the highlights of the festival will be?

While I think the dinners will be spectacular and I am really looking forward to the sherry cocktail competition, the highlight will have to be the Grand Tasting, with 10 bodegas, most with a principal or representative present and over 50 sherries to taste, it will give everyone a comprehensive sense of what is being produced these days and what variety sherry can offer.

I'm a huge fan of wine cocktails and love the idea of the cocktail contest - do you have a quick and easy sherry cocktail that you recommend?

I am not a cocktail guy. While I appreciate the art and I am intrigued by it - hence the interest in the cocktail competition - I really don't have a repertoire. I do think that sherry could be a good component and it might be a way to get people interested in it. The only sherry cocktail I know, perhaps not really a true cocktail is the "Rebujito" - popular in Spain and a great refreshing drink: In a tall glass, ice, an ounce or 2 (a copita basically) of dry fino or manzanilla and then filled up with Sprite or 7Up.  I like it. Especially when it's hot. But I'm sure our city's bartenders will come up with much better stuff than that at the competition on Friday October 11th at The Harbord Room from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Interested in attending Toronto's first Sherryfest? You can find information about the tastings and events here: